The simple mistake public speakers (and pastors) often make.

There’s a very common, very fixable mistake that a lot of speakers make. It’s something that particularly plagues pastors.

The problem is not something I came up with. I first read about it in a book called “Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln” by James C. Humes. It’s such a grievous error that he spends an entire chapter of the book on it. What is this problem?

The weak open.

Or more specifically, wasting the most important minute of your speech.

A speech has two critical minutes, the first one and the last one. What happens in between is certainly important but it’s nothing like what happens when you open and close a speech. It is in those moments that you have the greatest opportunity to reach your audience.

On the front end, this is the moment you first capture their attention. On the back end, this is the moment you send them home with something memorable.

Lots of speakers waste their first minute by doing one or all of the following:

1. Introducing themselves.
2. Expressing their gratitude at the opportunity to speak.
3. Commenting about how great the event is.
4. Specifically thanking the person who just introduced them.

Pastors, however, have added a new twist on these wasted moments. Now, if they have more than one campus watching via video, they feel the need to say hello to all the audiences.

“Hello Springfield, hello friends in Mission Hill, special greetings to anyone watching online, shoutout if you are watching a recording of this on a data chip after the zombie invasion, etc.”

I attend a video campus and I have never once thought, “Thank goodness that pastor acknowledged I’m here.”)

Why shouldn’t you introduce yourself or say thank you in the first minute? Well, for starters, you will most likely have already been introduced. In 99% of the speaking engagements I do, someone introduces me. Why should I repeat what the audience has just been told?

More than that though, it’s a waste of a powerful moment, that moment where everyone in the audience is waiting to see where you’ll take them. It’s an awesome moment, packed with anticipation and hope.

Imagine if a movie or a concert started with an introduction or a hello to everyone who might one day see it. “We’re U2 and we are from Ireland. We usually start with an amazing song. Today though, we want to tell you how thankful we are to play music for you here in Cleveland. This is such a great arena and we’re so glad that the opening band played some songs for you guys. We also want to say hi to everyone who is watching the livestream of this.”


What a boring concert.

Instead, what does U2 do? Instead what does the movie theater do? They dim the lights. They widen the screen. They launch you into a huge moment, full of excitement and joy and emotion! They set the stage for something amazing to happen.

How do you do that, especially if your speech or sermon isn’t loud and dramatic like a rock show? Read this.

That’s not to say you can’t greet other campuses or thank the event host. You can do all of those things. Just do them where the author Humes recommends, in the middle of the speech.

Don’t waste your opening minute.

It matters too much.

P.S. I’m writing a book on public speaking and giving it away week by week for free. This is one of the chapters. To get the rest, sign up here.

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Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff

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  6. The mistake that you have mentioned are most often be seen by pastors are true and these the very common mistakes that most of the people in that field makes. We should provide them with alternatives and guide them.

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  9. Your point of view is so great idea. The simple mistake public speakers (and pastors) often make which is in those moments that you have the greatest opportunity to reach your audience such as on the back end, this is the moment you send them home with something memorable . They launch you into a huge moment, full of excitement and joy and emotion. I will apply for my public pastors. This is so helpful. Thank this post.

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  14. As a preacher I have a question – when does that minute begin? I often get up and pray first, taking up a minute or two with that, then try to launch my sermons strongly (I have no campus to thank for their attendance). And if I have been invited to another church to speak I do often want to thank the congregation/church for the invitation before praying and launching into the sermon. I often assume that the speaker needs to grab my attention the moment they actually start their message. So when does that minute begin?

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